I may lose my edge by admitting this, but I am a sucker when it comes to Christmas music. I love it, and I don’t apologize for it. Yet, year after year I hear the same complaints by cynics, Scrooges and Grinches – “I hate Christmas music! It drives me insane! It sucks!” Christmas music gets a bad rap, but just like every genre of music, for every one good song, another five bad songs are recorded. Most of the time the terrible renditions lay in the arrangement of an artist singing a cheesy Christmas classic (i.e. Neil Diamond’s embarrassing version of Silver Bells, or pretty much anything on the Bob Dylan Christmas Album). In these cases it is not the song that is terrible, but it is a badly thought out recording by all involved. Yet, often there is just no excuse for a terrible Christmas songs. They are out there, and they pop up once in a while to horrify us, taunt us and get stuck in our heads. There are hundreds of terrible holiday songs to choose from, but after years of shifting through the best and worst that the holiday musical canon has to offer, the following are the five contenders for possibly the worst Christmas songs in the history of the holiday. Get ready to experience the worst of the worst. Click on the videos at your own risk. This isn’t going to be pretty.
I Want to Come Home For Christmas – Marvin Gaye
Who doesn’t love the smooth soul stylings of Marvin Gaye? With his velvet voice and cool romantic melodies, he’s the kind of singer that you expect that you would want to put on in the background as you enjoy a yule log with your lover on a cold winter’s night. For the most part this would be true, if not for Marvin Gaye’s 1972 Christmas song I Want to Come Home For Christmas. Written during the final years of the Viet Nam War, Marvin Gaye decided to combine his personal politics with winter romance in what could be one of the most depressing Christmas songs ever written! He begins the song innocently enough by provoking happy Christmas images by singing “I’d give anything to see the lovely Christmas tree/And hear the laughter of Christmas playing in the snow/To kiss my baby under the mistletoe.” However, he then turns the pathos on by singing “But I can’t promise my eyes the sight/Unless the stop the fight.” We suddenly realize he is a soldier. Soldiers away from their family is sad, but we are all used to this concept. Packages to soldiers and messages to love ones from troops over seas have been a part of Christmas for decades. Yet Marvin doesn’t stop there. Oh no. He’s going to up the horror just a notch in the next line as he further explains his imaginary soldier’s situation by singing “Because I am a prisoner of war/Lying here in my cell/Hoping my family is well/Wish they wouldn’t worry so much about me/Just try to get us home in time for the Christmas tree.” Holy crap Marvin Gaye! Thanks for this boat load of political angst. Although Marvin continues to croon about Santa Claus, snow flakes falling and jingle bells ringing, he has already crushed the spirits and good tidings of listeners everywhere. No amount of sexual healing is going to help us bounce back from this one.
Billy’s Christmas Wish – Red Sovine
It is said that the holiday season is a hard one for people everywhere, leading to one of the highest percentages of suicides throughout the world. I am convinced that a big part of that percentage is probably a result of the album Christmas with Red Sovine. Country gentleman and story teller Red Sovine made a whole career out of telling sad stories about crippled kids, dead truckers, dead dogs, dead wives, dead daughters, dead mothers and anything else to kick the hell out of the hearts out of the toughest of men. Well, when Red Sovine released an album of Christmas songs in 1978, he didn’t hold back on the melodrama. The Christmas confessional of a divorced man and the story of a blind little girl that asks her Daddy what Christmas looks like help set the stage for Christmas angst, but nothing could compare to Red Sovine’s tour de force, Billy’s Christmas Wish. The story of a street corner Santa who encounters an emotionally, mentally and physically abused street urchen, Billy’s Christmas Wish is the confessional of a child with a death wish. As he tells Santa about his story, the tale gets worse and worse – “My daddy lives in prison Santa/That’s what my momma says anyhow/They say he shot my mommas boyfriend/He’s been there an awful long time now.” He goes on to express his loneliness and the abuse at the hands of his mother’s lover by explaining “Mom works at the bar nearly every day/Mr. Brown just drinks and cusses a lot everytime I get in his way/So I’ve been gone for about four days now/I’ve been sleeping in cars that I’ve found.” He then explains that he has never gotten anything for Christmas, but shows his good nature by explaining his prayers to god to keep Santa safe, and that after Santa brings the other kids toys he knew that his prayers for Santa’s safety had been answered. Well, between tears as the boys tale gets more and more outlandish, Santa asks Billy what he wants for Christmas, promising that he will make sure he gets it. Billy says “Have you ever been to heaven Santa/Well I bet you know God as good as you are/Could I just ride up to Jesus’ house sir/If its not to far/He might just let me live there a while/Daddy says he likes little boys/And I wouldn’t take much room sir/I’d just in the back with the toys/And I promise not to be bad Santa/I could help God with his chores/And he might even let me see Daddy/And I wouldn’t be hungry no more.” Then, when you think Billy’s story couldn’t get any worse, he rolls over on Santa’s lap….AND DIES! That’s right! Billy freakin’ DIES ON SANTA’S LAP! But Red Sovine isn’t done yet. He goes on to narrate “The children had gone more silent/As they listened to the little boy/They were no longer laughing and smiling/His story had stolen their joy.” Well damn it Red Sovine. You freakin’ stole OUR joy with this one! Anyhow, in the end Santa tries to comfort the children by explaining “Don’t be sad for Billy/He went to heaven today.” Wow Red Sovine. Who hurt you?
Christmas with the Devil – Spinal Tap
Now we all know that we shouldn’t take anything done by Spinal Tap seriously. The fake band, made up of comedians Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer are possibly one of the cleverest and best farcical bands in the history of entertainment. However, when they wrote their heavy metal Christmas song, Christmas with the Devil, for their 1992 album Break Like the Wind, they pushed the boundaries of the joke from being clever, to a song full of disturbing and sacreligious imagery. Now I’m not at all conservative, and I enjoy a bit of sacreligiousness as much as the next rock n’ roll fan (Coven and Black Sabbath are amongst my all time favorite bands), but Christmas with the Devil puts a sinister demonic presence in what is supposed to be a happy holiday as they describe Christmas in hell. “The elves are dressed in leather and the angels are in chains/The sugarplums are rancid and the stockings are in flames/There’s a demon in my belly and a gremlin in my brain/There is someone up my chimney hole and Satan is his name.” For the chorus Spinal Tap sings “No bells in hell/No snow below/Silent night, violent night” as what sounds like Satan worshipers chanting patter in the background. Heavy metal bands have done Christmas songs before (i.e. AC/DC’s Mistress for Christmas and Twisted Sister’s brilliant Twisted Christmas CD) but what Spinal Tap seems to do is rape the spirit of Christmas in a single grotesque holiday song. I understand the joke, but its not really very funny. Nice try Spinal Tap, but Christmas with the Devil could be your biggest fail.
NewSong – The Christmas Shoes
Obviously taking a page from the Red Sovine book of songwriting, country Christian band NewSong made a big splash in 2000 with their Christmas tear jerker The Christmas Shoes, touching the hearts of simple and sentimental folks everywhere. However, in reality, all they did was write a pretentious and overdramatic piece of Christmas dreck. Yet, due to the spirit of misplaced Christmas sentimentality, The Christmas Shoes became a phenomena that continues to outlast it’s welcome. Narrated by an intense man doing his last minute Christmas shopping, The Christmas Shoes tells of the pleas of a poor little boy who is trying to buy a pair of red shoes for his dying mother so that she will have something pretty to wear when she dies and goes to heaven. Oh the melodrama is already being laid on thick. The boy explains to the shoe store employee in the chorus “I want to buy these shoes for my mama please/It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size/Could you hurry sir/Daddy says there’s not much time/You see she’s been sick for quite a while and I know these shoes will make her smile and I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight.” However, as bitter as shoe store employees always are, he refuses to sell the boy the shoes because he doesn’t have enough money, so the kid turns around and guilts the narrator of the song in buying the shoes for him. In the refrain the singer states “I knew I caught a glance of heaven’s love as he thanked me and ran out/I knew that God had sent that little boy to remind me about what Christmas was all about.” Well dude, if God needs to remind me what Christmas is all about, I much rather he send a series of ghostly visitors then a street urchen who wants my money. That kid is glad he didn’t run into me. If he had he would got a stern lecture about getting a paper route if he needed extra cash. Yeah, you might think the whole thing sounds sweet and sentimental but instead the singer comes off sounding smug and pretentious. Yet the smoke screen of Christmas melodrama worked on the public and The Christmas Shoes was a country Billboard hit. Furthermore the schmaltz of The Christmas Shoes would stick around to taunt us for more Christmas’ to come. In 2002 author Donna VanLiere took The Christmas Shoes and turned it into a novel, which then was turned into a CBS TV movie starring….Rob Lowe? Oy vey! Anyhow, The Christmas Shoes is the kind of crap that the masses seem to be suckers for, and it is probably being played on a radio right now.
Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney
I don’t even know where to begin to express my hatred for this god awful song. Perhaps I should start from the beginning….
Let me first explain that I am not a man who hates Paul McCartney. In fact, the majority of my favorite Beatles songs were written by Paul. Heck, I even like Wings! However, when it came to writing Christmas songs, let’s just say that Paul should have left the task to John.
My hatred for this song goes back to Christmas 1988. I was about thirteen years old. I took the city bus downtown after school to do some Christmas shopping and my mother made arrangements to pick me up after she was finished work. Our planned meeting spot was outside a popular novelty store in the local mall called Gadgets. Well, that year was the year that those sound controlled robotic dancing flowers were all the rage. Remember those things? As I stood outside the store, a little display of the flowers was set up with a small boom box that played Wonderful Christmastime on repeat as the flowers danced. I was fascinated by the flowers and watched them in amusement, but unfortunately for me, my mother was running late that night. As what seemed like an eternity I watched the flowers danced while Paul McCartney sang “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime” again….and again….and again. Well, as time passed I grew bored of the flowers but I began to actually, for the first time, “listen” to the song. I listed to McCartney’s unnatural phrasing, the cheesy synthesizer and the banal lyrics that was void of both the clever and thought provoking lyrics that McCartney had written in songs such as Yesterday and Let it Be. It was in that instant that I realized two things. First, Wonderful Christmastime was, without a doubt, THE WORST holiday song ever written. Second, having to listen to that fucking song over and over again is what it must feel like to be in hell. Eventually my mother arrived, saving me from the sound of McCartney’s smug little holiday song, but the experience left a vicious and ragged scar on me. To this day I can not listen to Wonderful Christmastime without having a violent reaction. I have been walking through grocery stores and will hear that awful synth start to chime and double over with a terrible moan of anguish, alarming shoppers around me. I have had to leave department stores that persist on playing it. I have been tempted to drive into the other lane, ending my life, when it has come on the car radio. However, it isn’t bad enough that only one version of Wonderful Christmastime was recorded. Over the years it has been covered by a wide range of masochists including Hilary Duff, Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, Demi Lavato and Helix, helping to seal this song into the canon of popular Christmas songs. I mean no disrespect Paul McCartney, but thank you for making my holiday season a living hell everytime I hear your damned holiday song. Thank you Paul McCartney, and have a wonderful Christmastime…dick.